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Financial managers pull off ultimate balancing act

Tech. Sgt. Martin Altamirano, budget technician, works with Tech. Sgt. Jorge Sosa, resource advisor for logistics readiness squadron, over the phone Aug. 27 to balance LRS’s government purchase card (GPC) account. Balancing more than 15 GPC accounts for the 162nd Fighter Wing is only one small aspect of what it takes to balance the entire wing budget. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Jones)

Tech. Sgt. Martin Altamirano, budget technician, works with Tech. Sgt. Jorge Sosa, resource advisor for logistics readiness squadron, over the phone Aug. 27 to balance LRS’s government purchase card (GPC) account. Balancing more than 15 GPC accounts for the 162nd Fighter Wing is only one small aspect of what it takes to balance the entire wing budget. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Jones)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Money, money, money! The 162nd Fighter Wing's Financial Management Office here deals directly with the grease that makes this base run - money, and lots of it; $110 million to be exact.

And as the end to this fiscal year, Sept. 30, quickly approaches, FM must give an account for every penny this base spent by balancing its budget.

"We start balancing the budget from the beginning of the fiscal year," said Capt. Melissa Jackson, acting comptroller.

Before each fiscal year starts, the base has a financial plan for how it will spend the money it will receive that year.

"Wing leadership decides how to distribute the money before the year even starts by using a financial plan," said Captain Jackson. They begin with what each section received in the previous year, then the sections justify why they need those and any additional funds they may need.

Justifying those needs is based first on mission requirements, then on additional items.

"We are advocates of the tax payer's dollars; the idea is to spend to get the mission accomplished," she said. "Just because we don't spend 100 percent of our money doesn't mean they are going to cut us next year. If there is an occasion when we do send money back that we don't need, it builds credibility with the Guard Bureau. There are other units that are waiting for funds to finish out their year; requirements that they can't meet on their budgets."

But the path to spending isn't as simple as buying required items. Deadlines, such as Congress' 80/20 rule which mandates that at least 80 percent of the money be legally obligated before July 31, require careful planning and coordination.

"Congress looks at it as if you aren't planning for it all year and you didn't even bother to spend it then it's probably not prudent spending," Captain Jackson said. "The idea is to get the resources out to the people who plan and direct so they can make spending decisions earlier."

"It really is a team effort. We've had great resource advisors. The job is stressful but I enjoy it. What is stressful to me is the idea that we have to get that money spent," said Tech. Sgt. Martin Altamirano, budget technician.

To ensure spending goes as planned, the FM office analyzes the funds all year by conducting trend analysis -- looking at historical spending patterns and current spikes or lows in spending. Also, they verify people are buying what they planned to buy, said Captain Jackson.

Even with the best of plans, things happen beyond the control of the FM office.

"On the first of the [fiscal] year when the money actually comes it might not be the amount we got last year. This year we had a 10 percent cut," she said. "While people can't just spend hoping the dollars will come, we will get the mission done by finding smarter ways to accomplish what is necessary."

And along with budget cuts comes an increase in unfunded requests - requests to purchase resources when there is no money budgeted for them.

"Currently, there are four top purchase priorities for the wing; temporary facilities for the building 44 remodel project, new sunshades for the aircraft parking area, communications upgrades including network certificates, and replacing personal protective equipment for the fire fighters," she said. Together, the four priorities would cost the wing an estimated $1.3 million.

As the year comes to an end, FM's primary mission is to close out the budget.

"Closeout events require a lot of coordination and follow-up. We go through a similar thing every year that the rest of the base goes through with the compliance inspection. You have a whole lot of partners trying to get one thing done - get the money down and the contracts cut. Every member out there is involved by coming out here, getting their orders done, using work days, pulling their drills and making up their drills within a timely manner," Captain Jackson said.

"We start the closeout on the first day of August to balance the books and get any remaining money spent or obligated by Sept. 30," said Sergeant Altamirano. "Near the last of August the wing commander takes control of all unspent money and uses it to pay for unfunded projects. This year it is being spent on the remodeling of building 44."

"Last year's closeout was very smooth; our timelines worked, so we went with a similar plan this year," Captain Jackson said.

But even with the year-long preparation a few long days may still be ahead.

"On Sept. 30 we'll all be in one office, sometimes till 10 o'clock or even midnight, waiting for Guard Bureau to confirm the budget has been balanced. They review all of our budget work and the work for more than 90 other bases," said Sergeant Altamirano.